Saving Face

We headed down the hill in a hurry. We were late. Aren’t we always? A tangle of six bodies, seat-belted into our cranberry colored minivan, pushing against the speed limit. And then I saw them, up ahead, standing together on the right side of the street. An elderly couple, waiting to cross. Cars zoomed past in both directions, and still, they waited. I stopped; I sighed, but I stopped. The white Chevy SUV coming towards me in the opposite lane, then stopped. Some mixture of surprise and joy washed over the couples faces and they crossed the street. The entire time they crossed they looked at me with huge grins on their faces and waved their right hands at me, in some universal thank you/hello.

I couldn’t help it. The joy on their faces was so contagious that I laughed out loud. My seven year old took all this in and asked me what was going on. I told her what was happening. (We had time, they were not fast walkers, my new waving friends.) But, she wanted to know, what is that look on their faces? That’s gratitude, I said. Now all my children were interested. What is gratitude, they asked. Gratitude, I told them, is when you are so thankful, that it changes your face. Ohhhh, they said, I want to have gratitude. Me too, I said.

I want to be that thankful again. Not just momentarily, but as a lifestyle. I see the opposite everywhere I go. I don’t just mean selfishness, I mean entitlement. It seems easier to catch than the stomach flu. But it stays longer and is just grosser. I don’t know if grosser is a word. But it’s a truth. Entitlement is everywhere. How often I drive down the road like a modern day Christopher Columbus, like everywhere I go belongs to me, just because I happen to be there. I reiterate everything that the drivers around me are doing wrong, out loud, like I am being paid by the Department of Licensing to give everyone a refresher course on the rules of the road. I am not. And now, my three year old has parroted this graceless behavior. “They should of yielded, right Mommy?!” She innocently asks as we run errands. “They are really selfish, right, Mommy?”

And it breaks me. I don’t have to teach my children that people are selfish, they will find that out for themselves. I should be teaching her to look for the good in people. To show mercy when people least deserve it. To lay yourself down and yield to kindness. That. That is what I meant to model for her. Those are the things that I wanted my children to see in me.

Thankfully, I still can. My poor narrative choices do not have to define me. I can do better, today. I have to. People are depending on me. I can live a life that leaves smile lines ironed onto my every expression, instead of frown lines. That is how to truly age gracefully. Today I choose to set my heart on gratitude. To be so thankful that it changes not only my face, but my attitude, my day, and my life. Maybe, I will succeed in this endeavor, and bring joy to others as I make my crossing. Or, at least, give them something to laugh about as they go their own way.

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Saying Goodbye…

The hard, lacquered wood is strong. Everything about it whispers that it was built to hold up the broken. A piano plays softly on the stage, or maybe they call it an alter. Sunlight streams through stained glass windows, turning the cathedral into a giant child’s kaleidoscope. I can only imagine how many souls have kneeled on the bench in front of me.

The body of my friend is in the back, resting in what should be an empty casket. Her sister offered that my sister and I could view her as we came in. I do not have the strength. Maybe I am a coward. Or maybe, just maybe, I know that she isn’t really there. Not anymore. And I want to remember the her that I knew.

The piano is getting stronger. Major chords are spilling around the room, as more and more people file in. Most are kneeling and making the sign of the cross with their hand before finding a seat. Her family paces. There is nothing left to do, no momentary reprieve from their hurt to focus on any task at hand. They have thought of everything, and now walk back and forth, in silence.

The men are strong. They wrap their arms around sisters and wives, aunts, a cousin. There are hugs that linger and turn into holding. Tears that fall silently and seep into the ground, until they too become a part of the staining of this cathedral.

Suddenly, there is singing. Without thinking, we all rise; rocky waves in a sea of grieving, until our eyes tumble to the back of the church. The lump that has taken residence in my throat since I got the call, comes front and center. All around me people are crying. This polite crowd of mourners is struggling to remain calm. As loud as we have cried at different times in our lives, we fight to cry quietly this time. The resulting sound is almost worse, as people I know and strangers alike have their mouths open in an attempt to quiet the sharp intakes and rapid huhh-huhh, huhh-huhh-huhhh, cry-breathing of sorrow.

The service is beautiful and personal in a way that can only be accomplished for the truly loved. I manage to keep it together until her twin brother begins to deliver the eulogy. Twins. My lot in life. Not only do I have my own twin daughters, but twins have been woven throughout my life in very special ways. One of those twins used to come with me here, to this exact cathedral, and sit in silence as we stumbled through the darkness of early adulthood and tried to find God. That twin, who taught me about love, and life, and laughter in a million ways, and whose funeral I spoke at just two years ago.

Now, the room and all of it’s high ceilings, are swirling. I am listening to this man say things that endear me even further to my friend. I somehow hang on his words, and yet lose myself in my own thoughts, simultaneously. He speaks over and over about the bonds of being a twin. And I am lost; sinking in a navy blue pool of grief so deep that I cannot tell which way is up. My chest is a potato sack of ache. Heavy, and awkward. It takes all of my strength to focus on her life instead of our loss. Then,he speaks of her work with foster children, and it buoys me. As much as she was an artist and writer,  it was this work, the caring for displaced children, that united us. This little thing of giving your life away, so that others may have a better chance. It is why I am here. Aren’t we all here to make a difference, for the better?

I look around and see  so many people, all from different walks of life. People, who without my friend, would likely have never met. But here we are, comforting and affirming each other. United. And I think, well, my friend, you did it.

Dear Rebecca….

Tomorrow we will gather and pour our grief-filled bodies into a glorious cathedral, and say goodbye. But this goodbye is different. This goodbye is to you. You, Rebecca, who lived life always as one big Hello. You, who were always willing to lay yourself down, like the most beautiful of welcome mats for the earth. You, who filled each moment with life, and color, and light.

I had been told by our supervisor that I would really like you, and had been anticipating our meeting for days before it happened. You were wearing rainbow barrettes in your dark hair, and an outfit that consisted of all their colors. Green sweater, yellow shirt, red pants, etc. I thought you would bring some much needed brightness to the foster children in our care. For once, I was right.

You were like a colored flame, bringing love to every corner of this place. It is safe to say that you changed hundreds of children’s lives. You loved with a courage and boldness that are usually reserved for the battlefield. You took advantage of every moment and filled them with stories, poetry, arts and crafts. No child could leave your presence doubting that they mattered and were loved.

You treated everyone in ways that spoke love to you. You were thoughtful and kind, compassionate, generous, and fearless in your love. You were a hunter of the best kind. You spent hours looking for the perfect gift for everyone you knew, and those they loved.

When I was carrying my third daughter, you told me that you were working on the perfect gift. A month later, you finished. Opening it, all I could do was laugh. You had filled the entire gift bag with mini Rebecca-style clothes. The brightest, most colorful and culturally diverse, baby clothes I had ever seen were inside. I, who almost always defer to black clothing for myself, suddenly had the most vibrantly dressed baby in town. Whenever she wore them, it brought a smile to the faces of everyone who saw her.

That was you. A bringer of light, a color-bearer, walking around like a glorious spring garden.

They say that lives are cast like stones in a lake, creating ripples that go on and on. Your life was more like a tsunami of kindness, the effects of which will still be felt one hundred years from now.

May we all have the courage to live our lives with the color and compassion that you did.

Until we meet again,

Your Friend, Jessica